START WITH THE END IN MIND – why process map

Posted: Wednesday, 5 May 2010 @ 14:55

In my experience, mapping is never an end in itself and in the world of continuous improvement it certainly isn't the objective! I once met a team of people who had been sucked into mapping their organization's processes for a whole year and had literally forgotten why they had started the exercise.

Whilst process maps are useful for documenting a process as part of standardising practice (very important for reducing variation), the route to establishing that process, ie your continuous improvement or BPR activity, is a hands-on affair and I would subscribe to the 'pen and post-it' technique. BHW has also developed another approach, which is very effective at digging out the waste in a hard-to-map process and which is often far more accessible to the workforce.

The problem with mapping is knowing when to stop - in the words of Stephen Covey (author 'Seven Habits of Highly Successful People'), and to slightly misquote him: "start with the end in mind". Or as Abraham Lincoln was once heard to say, when asked how long a man’s leg should be: “Long enough to reach from his hip to the ground!”

If you are digging a well for water, when do you stop? Answer - when you find water! If you are after oil, keep digging!!!

A SIPOC is great for scoping the process under scrutiny, establishing stakeholders affected and ascertaining the purpose/output of the process; more detailed maps (from VSM to flowcharts) help to find waste activities, including queues and sources of errors.

It's not always easy to draw a map, though. I recently was involved with street cleansers and our aim was to find the non-value added activity in their day/week/month. Drawing maps was limiting, as their 'day' was made up of many interacting activities and this is not untypical of most office jobs, either - we manage many processes in parallel, switching back and forth.

So we devised a technique we called 'activity listing', in which the street cleansers conducted a three hour workshop to list their activities, identify their nva and prioritise it in terms of 'time stealing'. This short workshop resulted in a list of projects, mostly easy JGDI (Just Go Do It) actions that resulted in over 20% time savings.

We developed the activity listing as a step-by-step technique that thoroughly engages the team, using simple tools and which produces a shortlist of effective actions that the team can execute themselves.

For more information on the activity listing technique, contact Stephen on